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Lambda Deuteron Chapter at Thiel College, 1872-1874


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In the nineteenth century fraternities often lost chapters when the faculty, trustees, state legislature, or other controlling body banned fraternities. Our chapter at Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania, was one such loss among many.

Founded in 1870, Thiel had no fraternities until Phi Gamma Delta granted a charter to Lambda Deuteron Chapter in 1872.  When the trustees banned fraternities in 1874, the chapter surrendered its charter. Thiel would not see another national fraternity until 1915.

The following article about Lambda Deuteron is adapted from "History of Thiel Chapter Recalled by an Alumnus" by Horace E. Dunlap (Thiel 1877), The Phi Gamma Delta, Vol. 54 No. 2 (November 1931), pp. 118-120. It first appeared in Thiel College: An Historical Bulletin.We added new information:  the third and fourth paragraphs with their quotes, and comments in brackets elsewhere.

[On September 21], 1872, the Grand Chapter of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity granted to a group of young men in Thiel College a charter for Lambda Deuteron Chapter of that Greek-letter organization . . . . [Thiel College's first] President Henry W. Roth (Gettysburg 1861) and his brother, D. Luther Roth (Muhlenberg 1874), had joined Phi Gamma Delta, and it was probably due to the activities of the latter that the Thiel boys obtained a charter.

It was whispered among the initiates that the board of trustees of the college frowned on secret fraternities and for that reason no air of recognition from President Roth could be expected. However, the members hoped that he, knowing the high ideals and usefulness of the organization, would not antagonize the chapter unless under compulsion.

The chapter was installed by brothers from Allegheny College on November 11, 1872. Said one Pi Chapter correspondent, "Last night we instituted a new chapter at Thiel College Greenville, Pa. . . . Everything bids fair that it will be an honor to the fraternity."

Thiel was a shaky young institution in great transition. A month after installation, John Witteker of Lambda Deuteron wrote to Tau Chapter:

Thiel College was chartered in 1870. During that year the studies were pursued at Phillipsburg, Beaver Co., Penna. In 1871 it was moved and located at this place [Greenville, Pennsylvania]. On account of this change we now have only about half a dozen of the old students. As yet we have only three college classes: Junior, Sophs. and Fresh; these numbering about twenty. We have also about seventy students in Academic Department [probably preparatory students].

Our first building, Greenville Hall, is now being erected. This is situated on a small hill northeast of the town. A beautiful little grove forms part of the grounds. At present we have rooms in Union School which we will occupy till next summer.

I cannot furnish you with a catalogue as we have none in circulation. However I will give you the names of the Deltas: John Bolt, Pi; Wm. Skogs [?], E; Geo. L Rankin T. Jno. W Whitteker G.A.; Theo. B. Roth and Albert J. Kepple.

The writer was surprised and not a little flattered when, in the winter of 1872-3, his classmate, J. Boyd Duff, later an eminent attorney of Pittsburgh, gave him a verbal bid to apply for membership. Although absolutely ignorant of Greek-letter fraternities, when he was informed that President Roth and D. Luther Roth were members of the chapter at Gettysburg and that our popular tutor, T. B. Roth, was chief officer of the local chapter, no argument was needed. A new member was presently added to the chapter roll, and in some way his name in being recorded acquired a middle initial, "E".  T. B. Roth, who kept the records, called the roll students in chapel each morning, so the name went on the college rolls with the added initial letter and Dunlap could never get rid of it.

The stated meetings of the chapter were not only interesting, but most helpful, especially to the younger members, most of whom were timid. While urged not to neglect any study assigned to them, they were encouraged to give special attention to English composition and declamation. One boy, previously rather lacking in ambition, under the impetus of a little encouragement from upperclassmen, developed a decided ability in oratory, becoming in his senior year the acknowledged leader of the college in that field.

Not all of us can become real orators, but all derived great benefit from the encouragement and practice received-- more, in fact, that any of us realized at the time. The writer freely confesses that it never came home to him, until he had a son in the University of Arizona, where there was no chapter of Phi Gamma Delta ready to welcome him.

The strong arm of discipline, call it hazing if you choose, accorded to freshmen in college and university develops an antagonistic class spirit, thereby depriving those neophytes of the friendly association and aid of men in the upper classes. The college fraternity serves to supply this lack. Loyalty to their own national organizations and a healthy rivalry with local chapters of other fraternities leads men of the upper classes to exercise a helpful supervision over the younger members' studies and habits.

The benefit to freshmen and sophomores from constant association with men of the right sort belonging to the upper classes may be inestimable. It may even transcend the advantage derived from books and lectures; for the formation of a good character is of the really important things in life.

Everything was going well. The chapter had eighteen members, most of whom were leaders in their respective classes. Half a dozen went one weekend to visit the chapter at Allegheny [according to correspondence in the Hanover Chapter's records, this was in January 1874]. But trouble was impending, and before was two years old, there came from the authorities, as a bolt from a clear sky, an ultimatum to the effect that those affiliated with Phi Gamma Delta fraternity must relinquish their charter or suffer expulsion from Thiel College. None of us had ambitions in the line of such publicity; so a last meeting was called. The members figuratively kissed the prized charter goodbye and sent it back to New York.

But mark the sequel. While no more formal meetings were held and no secret words or official titles were henceforth used, that bunch just naturally held together so long as two or more remained in Thiel. Some time later a remnant of about eight of the original band organized "The International Coffee Club." The term "International" implied no radical leanings but only a healthy interest in world events.

Each member subscribed for a leading eastern newspaper, review or high-class magazine and at the weekly meetings notes were compared and events and political probabilities were discussed. Rev. G. W. Critchlow still treasures among his archives a faded photograph of the club in session.

Of the original eighteen members, seven became Lutheran ministers. Of these, John E. Whitteker and J. C. Kunzman rose to be presidents of Lutheran theological seminaries, the former at Maywood, Illinois, and the latter in Seattle, Washington. A third, the beloved Theophilus [B. Roth], after some years devoted to the active ministry, became [the fourth] president of Thiel College and is now affectionately acclaimed as "The Grand Old Man of Thiel." George L.. Rankin in his later years served as treasurer of the Pittsburgh Synod. Three became physicians, one being Dr. John H. Martin of Greenville. Three entered the profession of law. John B. Bott achieved distinction as a civil engineer, residing in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. L. M. Roth is a dentist in Prospect. S. S. Roth went into educational work and became superintendent of schools in a county of Indiana, but died early.

Two were prevented by failing health from completing a professional course and migrated to the Southwest. Of these A. J. Kepple died in Trinidad, Colorado. The writer, more fortunate, after a long, hard struggle, won back fair health and during the period of recuperation, taught school, played cowboy, then became in turn an accountant, newspaper publisher, bank clerk, and cashier.

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